Tag Archives: autism

Film Gives a New Perspective on Autism

autism film x + y

The 2014 movie X + Y follows a young teenage boy’s journey through the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).

Nathan, the main character, is described as being socially awkward and having difficulty with the relationships in his life. It is soon discovered that he has a brilliant gift with numbers and is selected to be a competitor on the British team. The story goes on to follow his experiences with new challenges, particularly working to gain a better understanding of the nature of love.

It was inspired by the BBC television documentary Beautiful Young Minds where director Morgan Matthews takes you through the selection process and training for the competitors. Most of the young men on the team had some form of autism but excelled in mathematics. One in particular, Daniel Lightwing, was the focus and inspiration for X + Y.  As a child he struggled tremendously with the pressure from his parents and teachers to be social and “normal.” At the age of 16 he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a syndrome that falls within the autism spectrum. Thereafter his parents realized that he simply had different strengths.

Once Lightwing found competitive math things got a lot better for him. His self-confidence and self-respect increased. In that environment he was able to relate to others more than he did in school or even his own family.

Soon after college he lived in China for some time where his academic achievements were held in high regard. He then landed a job at Google but encountered many struggles with social interactions. During his time there, he avoided others as much as possible. On the rare times he did participate, he was rejected.

Lightwing believes that the film is powerful in the way it portrays his experience with Asperger’s syndrome. It shows that there are many types of people in the world who are valuable and can contribute great things to society.

by Raiza Belarmino



Interpreting the Correlation between Infant Communication and Autism Onset

autism diagnosis

Over the years, researchers have fiercely debated the origins of autism. Theories regarding its conception have targeted everything from inattentive parents to biological bases. Despite their sundry allegations, these theories all have one thing in common: an emphasis on infant development.

Experts maintain that a clear diagnosis of autism cannot be established until early toddlerhood. Before then, behaviors vary too much to create a firm connection. Studies regarding eye movement and tracking have come close to identifying early clues to autism’s onset; however, they remain somewhat insufficient to establish an accurate diagnosis.

Jonathan Green, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester, strives to substantiate an intensive evaluation and therapy approach that could create a stronger, more accurate method for infant diagnoses. He is currently supervising a study following 53 at-risk infants in order to document autism’s manifestation.

Green believes that it is a combination of genetic and parenting influences that activates autism during infancy. He has not been satisfied with the popular notion that biology alone determines autism development so he hopes to outline compounding factors. Thus far, he’s discovered that an intensive parental intervention correlates to increased social interaction and attention in the infants.

It is important to note that Green does not place the origin of autism on parents. Rather, he believes that parent-child relationships may simply influence the trajectory at which a biological predisposition towards autism may begin.

His intervention consists of training parents to recognize and interpret attempts at communication, fostering an interest in the infant’s changing attentions, and translating gestures into words to build verbal understanding. It also expounds on electroencephalography findings regarding brain response to speech sounds.

It is too soon to say whether this training can truly alter the course of autism’s development. Nevertheless, Green’s program does provide important feedback to parents regarding how their interactions play into the child’s development, whether they be typically developing or not.

“I don’t want to say that one can ‘cure’ autism like this, that’s not true,” Green says. “But I hope we’ll be able to make a difference.”

Sara Power, Fordham University



Dr. Shore Speaks About Successful Transition to Adulthood

Stephen Shore on transitioning to adulthood

Professor Shore has been able to remedy his sensitivity to overhead lights by wearing a baseball cap during his lectures.

Dr. Stephen Shore is no stranger to awkward situations. Through his lecture “Promoting Successful Transition to Adulthood for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum” presented on Friday at Hotel Pennsylvania, Dr. Shore hopes that his experiences navigating through life with Asperger’s Syndrome are instructive for young adults on the autistic spectrum.

A successful transition to adulthood often revolves around choosing the right career. Dr. Shore spoke about his fascination with mechanical watches as a child, and how he was able to parlay this strength into a college job repairing bicycles.

It is an unfortunate truth that the unemployment rate among adults with autism remains high today. The majority of young adults affected by asd struggle to achieve full-time employment- some estimates suggest over 90%. While teens on the spectrum vary widely in their degree of functioning (high/low), there are steps that may be taken to improve their likelihood of achieving independence.

Anyone on the autistic spectrum has their own set of strengths and interests. A child may love putting items in the correct order, for example. It may be ideal for this individual to take a job stocking shelves. This could parlay into a career in inventory management.

There are various professions that benefit from the skill set exhibited by some people with ASD. We have seen several companies, such as engineering firms, that actually have programs designed to place bright young adults on the autistic spectrum with jobs that utilize their math skills and minimal socialization. Employers sometimes praise these workers for their lack of idle chatter during a productive work day.

But proper employment is not the only challenge on the path toward adulthood. Learning to build social and relationship skills is usually a challenge for someone with ASD. Dr. Shore suggests that we ask for what he calls “reasonable accommodations” in order to successfully integrate into social groups.

For example, Dr. Shore typically presents his lectures wearing a baseball cap. Although this may seem unusual, his reasoning has nothing to do with making a style statement. He explained how the overhead LED lighting in lecture halls bothers him more than it would the average person, who may not even be affected. Asking for reasonable accommodations like this can help a person with autism fit in with others. The key, as always, is awareness- if the adults around him understand what his needs are, they may be more likely to feel comfortable with his differences.

Children with autism are poorly prepared for their adult lives, according to Dr. Shore, which is something that caregivers, therapists, and teachers need to change. It is typical to begin preparing a child for their adult lives at 16.

“This is about ten years too late,” said Dr. Shore, in response to that idea.

ICare4Autism is in the process of creating a Global Workforce Initiative vocational training program that will help teens develop their skills and translate them into a career. It is estimated that this year alone, around 50,000 18 year olds with autism will enter the workforce or choose to continue their education.



On Making Autism Visible to Strangers

labelling autistic child in a crowd

For parents, one of the biggest hurdles they face raising a child with autism is the fact that it is a hidden disability. It may not be concealed behind a wall, or in disguise, but there are no trademark physical attributes that would signal public to their disability. As a result, misunderstanding in the form of aggressive criticism is an unfortunate reality parents have to deal with.

Farida Peters of Toronto, Canada is one of those parents. Every weekday, she takes her 5-year-old son Deckard on a seventeen stop subway ride that can last up to an hour so that he can get to his behavioral therapy on time.  Anyone acquainted with autism spectrum disorder knows that such rides can be a nightmare as they involve so many alterations dependent on the day: something Deckard simply cannot deal with.

In the past, he would throw tantrums during their ride when he couldn’t find a seat or didn’t have room to stand. The smallest thing could set him into a tailspin of screeching and stimming as he encountered boundless anxiety in the form of changes in their routine commute. To the uninformed eye, he was simply the petulant child to an overindulgent mother. After months of harsh words and exasperated encounters, Farida came up with a solution to alert her fellow commuters to what was actually going on.

Recently, Farida began clipping a laminated sign to her backpack that states: “My son is 5 years old and has autism. Please be patient with us. Thank you.” Though she’s met criticism for publicly labeling her child, Farida defends herself, saying “Honestly, I don’t always have time to apologize to everyone when I’m in crisis mode. I try to, but I have a kid who needs a lot of support.”

Despite some admonishments from close friends, the sign has improved Farida and Deckard’s commute drastically. Behavior that would once provoke an angry sigh or glare from a stranger now results in a reassuring hand on Farida’s back, and people asking how best they can accommodate her son.

The encouragement and support has comforted Farida immensely during times of duress; however, it’s proven even better for Deckard. Of course, his anxiety is now alleviated by the kindness of strangers; however, even better is the fact that people now engage him in positive conversation. Someone may see the sign and compliment him on his shirt or good behavior; others may simply offer a smile or a silly face. Regardless of the form the kindness comes in, it’s reinforced Deckard’s good behavior.

There’s an African proverb that claims that: “It takes a village to raise a child.” For Farida and her husband, the encouragement and kindness they’ve received as a result of her sign couldn’t prove this better.

Sara Power, Fordham University



Book Reaches Out to Parents Struggling with Child Disabilites

 

mental disorders and autism

For any parent of a special needs child, he or she is well aware of the challenges that crop up on a constant basis. A mother of four children with mental disabilities has now written a book to help parents cope with that overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to turn.

Ann Douglas’ book “Parenting Through the Storm,” reaches out to gather a large variety of perspectives. Over 50 parents of children with mental health challenges were interviewed, as well as mental health professionals. Their stories carry a message of hope for parents and provides advice on how to cope with mental disorders and illnesses.

The author’s own story has been a tumultuous one. Her daughter has battled depression and bulimia, and all three of her sons were diagnosed with ADHD. Her two youngest sons struggled in school with writing-based disorders, and her youngest son Ian has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder.

She mentions in the book how the genetic variations that are linked to ASD often result in other mental disabilities within a sibling, like bipolar disorder. This is why it can sometimes feel like mental challenges are “stacked up” within a single family.

Douglas herself has fought against the current and suffered through mental health issues as a result of her childrens’ difficulties. She battled clinical depression for about three years. The author makes a point in her book to emphasize caring for onesself for her readers. In order to provide the best life for your children, you must make your own health a priority.

“You find yourself in the situation and you have no choice but to cope because the kids are counting on you to cope,” Douglas said in an interview with Brandon Sun.



Work Opportunities Blossom Under ‘Roses for Autism’

roses for autism

 

On Pencheck farms, the greenhouses are set to a summery 80 degrees while the busy employees get to work, harvesting flowers for Valentine’s Day.

February 14th is the day that flower companies receive their biggest business all year. Currently, workers who are part of the Roses for Autism program are helping prepare the flowers for harvest, which includes pushing them to “flush,” or bloom.

Tom Pincheck used to own the largest rose grower in the New England area. He was forced to shrink his operations after competition from South America slashed the market price that roses sold for. Pinchek farms could not compete with the ideal climate and rock-bottom flower prices, so he shut down wholesale operations in 2008 after 79 years of operation.

The rose grower was then approached by a college friend, Jim Lyman. Jim was the owner of the Lyman Orchards Dynasty and also had a son with autism. He prosed to Pinchek to use his rose farm to open up a vocational program for children with autism. The organization Ability Beyond Disability loved the idea, so it was set into motion.

Pinchek describes Roses for Autism as a “new incarnation” of his previous business. Twenty five full time and part time employees work here, where they are given the tools necessary to engage in meaningful employment. In addition, Roses for Autism also includes an internship program, where hundreds of students are involved each year.

Their activities on a given day include cashiering, shipping and inventory, and working in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is a peaceful space for many, as working with plants and flowers has proved to be a therapeutic activity for adults and children on the spectrum.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone is part of a team. This involves learning effective teamwork and social skills. The roses are not only special for those who receive them, according to Pinchek, but also for those who grow and care for them.

In the greenhouses, Pinchek and his employees and interns are cranking up temperatures, pushing the roses to flush before Valentine’s Day. All roses grown in the greenhouse are descendants of the same varieties that were cultivated in 1929. The most popular rich red variety is known as “Forever Yours.” In the muggy 80 degree greenhouse dripping with vapor, members of Roses for Autism are all working together to make sure these special red roses bloom just in time.



Prep Distance Runner is a Top Contender Despite Having Autism

Mikey Brannigan Runner with Autism

Mikey Brannigan has his sights set on the finish line, and nothing is about to get in his way.

The 18 year old prep distance runner is one of the top in the nation, and the teen powerhouse owes his success to a running group he joined at age 9. Brannigan has autism, and the Long Island native found his inspiration in the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program.

Grannigan’s mentors and supporters are impressed by his dedication. Many who have observed him running remark on his passion when it comes to the sport. One of his biggest supporters is his father Kevin.

“When Mikey is out there running, he’s just like every other kid,” Kevin Brannigan told the NY Daily News. “He’s accepted for who he is.”

Another one of the young athlete’s biggest fans is Dr. Norbert Sander, CEO of the Armory Track and Field Center in Long Island (which happens to the busiest indoor track complex in the nation) is excited to watch Brannigan train and improve each day.

“What a story this young man is,” says Dr. Norbert Sander. “What a story.”

Brannigan is a force to be reckoned with on the track. He is one of the best prep distance runners in the united states. Diagnosed before age 2 with autism spectrum disorder, Brannigan lost all his speech abilities by age 4. Once he joined the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Running Program a few years later, he was equipped with the focus and drive necessary to compete in an elite class of runners.

He quickly became an athletic phenomenon in his community, finishing 22nd out of 5,500 runners when competing in his first 10k at 12 years old. Last year, Brannigan snagged the New York State Federation cross-country title. This came just a few months after he had won the New Balance two-mile national championship, clocking in at 8:53:59.

The high school senior has received interest from Stanford, Oregon, North Carolina, and a number of other colleges. College has long been a dream of his, though at the moment he is unsure about the direction he will take.

Right now, Brannigan is at a crucial point in his running career and the next few months could shape his future in a big way. His coach Jason Strom has been behind him the whole way and is constantly impressed by his unfettered attitude on the track.

“Regardless of where you stand intellectually, everybody can achieve greatness if you find what you want and get after it,” Strom says. “The word autism doesn’t mean that you can’t excel — that you can’t be at the highest level of your sport — because that is (exactly what he has done).”



Compliments to Complementary Therapy for ASD

autism alternative treatment

One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with ASD is that there is no one solution.

In order to properly care and provide for persons with this disorder, treatment must be given in a multi-faceted manner. Therapists such as the renowned Steven Rudelhoff recognize just how important this is.

This past week, Rudelhoff received a Highly Commended award in the category of Best Complementary Medicine Practitioner. This award is in conjunction with the Institute of Complementary Natural Medicine Awards, held in London England. The reason? His amazing work with integrating aromatherapy massage, sound healing, and energy healing.

Alternative medical treatments are readily available, but the science behind such healing is hotly debated. Though such treatments spark a lot of controversy regarding whether or not they truly address the symptoms of ASD, Rudelhoff is confident that he is making a difference.

“Both caregivers and parents have seen big improvements in the behavioral patterns of my clients,” he said in an interview. “They have become calmer in general and when they need to release stress, it is released more gently. They have become more balanced in every part of their lives and are happier within themselves.”

Clearly, the Institute of Complementary Natural Medicine agrees. To find out more about Rudelhoff’s work, you can check out his website at www.reikiwithrudelhoff.com where you will find his contact info.

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Sara Power, Fordham University



Autistic Teens Start with Gumball Machines to Learn Business Management

autism gumball machine business

While you are out and about in your local mall or your local doctors office, you may see a gumball machine.

Simply put in a quarter, turn the knob, and a gumball drops out of the chute. Something you may have not known is that those simple gumball machines sometimes provide benefits to people, even jobs. In this case, four young teenagers by the name of Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun have begun lessons in entrepreneurship through these little candy machines.

These young men also happen to have autism spectrum disorder, but they aren’t letting that stop them from learning to become successful like anyone else. Easter Seals, which is a service that reaches out to all people of different disabilities including autism and more, has created a program called “Bubble 2 Work”. Their job is to maintain, re-fill, and collect money from the machines. With that, the seeds are planted and the boys begin to understand how to run a business.

Kelly Anne Ohde of Easter Seals has stated that it’s an opportunity for them to gain real world experience for them.

Gumball machines are located in 17 south suburban establishments in Illinois where people interact with others, including customers and even a state senator, Senator Michael Hastings. Hastings describes that the four teens are “great kids.”

“We traded movie quotes, what’s going on and what it’s like to be a senator,” he says of his relationship to the four young men.

Not only are the teens learning how to run a business which will indefinitely help them in the future, they are also improving their social skills and even learning new things from influential people like Hastings.

And that’s not all. Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun’s job training teaches other people about autism.  Tony Gloria of Rocco Vino’s Italian Restaurant, where the four work on the gumball machines, welcomes them to eat there on their lunch breaks, saying that they have a “personal understanding.”

In this day in time, we must remember the importance of instilling knowledge into our young people regardless of the challenges they face. All children and teens deserve an equal chance at a bright and successful future.

Taja Kenney, Eerie Community College



Ballet Changes Everything for Autistic Young Man

ballet autism

Imagine not being able to speak or communicate with your loved ones. What if you were only able to express yourself through actions and not words?

For the average person, just getting across basic ideas would be a huge challenge. But 20 year old Phillip Martin-Nelson, who was diagnosed with the most severe form of autism at a very young age, now stars in a premier ballet company. For the very first three years of his life he could not speak or tolerate the touch of another person, let alone sharing eye contact.

He now thanks dance and claims that it saved his life, stating that he would have never been able to live on his own or take care of himself without it. Growing up, his parents put him in sports and gymnastics and when he finally was able to speak, Martin-Nelson told them that he wanted to dance. He says that by learning to dance, his parents saw him focus and become excited about what he was doing for the first time.

With that being said, dance affected every aspect of his life to the point where he even spent his lunch time playing music and dancing.

Today he is a principal dancer at Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male dance company. He cannot stress enough the big impact that dancing has had in his life.

“If I didn’t have ballet, if I never stepped into that first ballet class I probably would have never recovered, Martin Nelson said in an interview with MyFoxNY. “I would probably still be in special schools to this day and trying to just get by.”

The young man gives a big thanks to his therapists and other support systems for helping him to get where he is today.

Therapy plays a big role in the lives of children that have autism. Observing and noticing not only your child’s needs, but also their interests and passions can change their lives and take a whole new direction.